Bayonets Before Bullets

Modernizing of the Russian military machine after the Crimean War began with the appointment of a young officer, M.A. Miliutin, to the post of Deputy War Minister in 1860. Chapter 1 explains how in his twenty years in the Ministry, Miliutin discarded the old spit-and-polish emphasis, the “paradomania,” as it was known, and emphasized field exercises and officer education. He was helped in these efforts by M.I. Dragomirov, a professor of tactics at the Nicholas Academy, who stressed indoctrination and motivation in troop training.

Chapter 2 analyzes the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 in both the Balkans and the Caucasus, stressing the three assaults on Plevna, the capture of Sheinovo and the military lessons learned. Chapter 3 stresses the various failures in linkages in the 1880-1904 period— linkages between a mass army and the means of transporting it, and between theory and practice; and Chapter 4 identifies the incremental changes in strategy—in the infantry, the artillery, and the cavalry— demanded between 1878 and 1904 by technological advances (e.g., the invention of smokeless powder).

The centerpiece of BAYONETS BEFORE BULLETS is perhaps Chapter 5, “Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905,” an engrossing account of the multitude of mistakes the Russians made in that war. The conclusion drawn by most students of that campaign—terribly costly in lives—is that the Russian high command planned and fought its battles with a “Napoleonic understanding” of military strategy that had become obsolete through advanced technology and more enlightened battlefield policies.

The sixth chapter, on “Theory and Structure, 1905-1914: Young Turks and Old Realities,” spells out the problems the Russians faced in reorganizing and revitalizing an army that now had motorized vehicles and aircraft to assimilate into a smoothly working war machine. Political obstacles and poor communications still bedeviled the Russian army, despite its leaders’ best efforts, leaving it not at all well prepared for the ordeal it would face in World War I.

The final chapter, “On Dilemmas of Design and Application, 1905-1914,” tells the story of Russia’s military planning in the period before World War I. Despite its best efforts, failures in linkages of all kinds kept down the army’s effectiveness so that, as Menning says, “shortages would once again force the Russians to rely on bayonets before bullets.”